9 Jun 2015

Sam Roi Yot National Park

Two years ago we rented a motorbike and, after a few hours riding some winding roads through the mountains, we spent New Year's Eve at a tent in the top of a mountain in Northern Thailand. It was a chilly,  unforgettable experience that we promised we would repeat again. Yet last year's New Year, for different reasons, was spent in Bangkok, so this past holidays we decided it was time to pack our backpack and do something similar again. We had less days off so going that far north was out of the question this time around, so after some deliberation we settled on a couple of National Parks not very far from Bangkok that any of us had visited before and that seemed more than interesting enough to cross to the New Year far from the fireworks of the city. The first of them was Sam Roi Yot.

A game of patience, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
A house with views, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Ban Bang Pu beach, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Waiting for the rain, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Sam Roi Yot is a small National Park some 50 km south of Huahin, and the main landmarks of its landscape are, not surprisingly, water (the sea, but also the marshes that abound in the area) and the rocky mountains that punctuate the landscape, creating a shocking and beautiful contrast with the flat land that lies all around. These sudden, almost vertical walls of thickly forested stone provide a great scenery and they also hide one of the best kept secrets of the National Park: countless caves, carved by erosion and water along thousands of years. One of those big cavities, besides, conceals which is probably the most coveted spot of the whole park: a small shrine that is only touched by rays of light a few hours every day. Welcome to Phraya Nakhon Cave.

The crevice, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Phraya Nakhon Cave I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Phraya Nakhon Cave II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Phraya Nakhon Cave III, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The opening, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The bridge, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Another highlight of Sam Roi Yot National Park is Thung Sam Roi Yot, Thailand's largest freshwater marsh and a key place to see (and study) multiple bird species in a wondrous habitat. A few, long boardwalks were built over the water and zigzag through rushed and waves, with some shelters scattered along the way to protect from the sun and providing comfortable resting or viewing points from where to explore the vegetation and fauna around. However, these boardwalks and huts were in a poorly kept condition, and holes were dangerously growing in the boards and roofs with nobody around to take care of their maintenance. The place was almost deserted, as well, but, despite all, we enjoyed a serene, silent walk, with the place all to ourselves.

The walkway I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The walkway II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The walkway III, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The walkway IV, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
The walkway V, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Two days that passed quicker than we would have liked, but that was not the end of our short trip, since the following day we rode the motorbike back to Huahin and took a van to the second destination of our holiday, the place where we would spend the last night of the year. Roughly 100 km away, but a landscape so vastly different than one might think he had travelled to the other extreme of the country. But that's another story, and so it deserves its own post, which will come next. To conclude this one, a couple of final captures I took as we were leaving, as a quiet, subdued farewell.

Long gone I, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Long gone II, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm

2 Jun 2015

People from Myawaddy, the door to Myanmar

The first thing you notice when you cross the Friendship Bridge that separates (or links) Thailand with Myanmar over Moei River is how populated the Burmese border town of Myawaddy is. As early as the border check-point (where you can get the visa without any prior application), hundreds of people can be seen anywhere you point your eyes at, making the crowds of Thailand seem somehow pale in comparison. Myawaddy is by no means a big town, actually it is rather small in terms of geographical scope, as you can easily walk around most of the town in a day, which makes it a perfect one-day-trip from the neighbor town of Mae Sot, and is perfectly reachable by bicycle, as I did myself.

Generations, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The seamstress, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Soil & oil, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Bingo!, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Hidden feet, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Strolling its barely paved roads and alleys is a journey to a place that, despite the proximity with Thailand, has yet to catch up with modernization in many ways (slums and garbage pits cohabiting with temples and street markets, traditional clothes and colors alongside mobile phones and imported goods), but that shows a restless pace of people and work everywhere your feet brings you. For the most part, I only got smiles and curiosity in return to my glances and gestural way of asking for permission to take their pictures, specially from kids, that are omnipresent in the winding back alleys even under the fiercest sun of afternoon.

Through the wheel, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Serious eyes, colorful world, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Pensive girl, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Not there yet, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Tears that will soon fade, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Only after I returned to my guesthouse in Mae Sot that same evening I realized the downside of my obsession with Myawaddy's people, their homes and their modest businesses, their routines and their open, clear glances: I hadn't visited any of the supposed landmarks of Myawaddy, such as the "Crocodile temple", all my day was spent walking unnamed small roads engaging with whoever happened to be in the vicinity and taking my changes at portraits and people. That's why I decided to call this post "People of Myawaddy", since people is all there is, not a single picture of a landscape, a urban view, a monument; pure and simply, people.

Football in the dump, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Takraw below the bridge, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Faraway friends, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
However, between merchants and kids, vendors and walkers, drivers and idlers, what specially caught my attention, not only by the sheer number of them but specially because of the variety of their duties and tasks, where Buddhist monks. The more I see them and know about them, the more they surprise me, for they can as well be praying or peacefully having a frugal meal, than pruning the trees of their temple, taming a monkey, feeding stray animals or cleaning a car, to name a few, diverse examples (you can see a previous article I posted about Buddhist monks in Thailand here).

Mundane work, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Holy water, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Communication, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Monk's lunch, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Novice's lunch, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Since I live in Thailand, I have long developed a deep admiration for their determination and spirit, and I never get tired of observing how down to earth they are, and how valuable their teachings are in Buddhist societies, more so for children and novices with few other prospects for their future. Novice monks, with their innocent yet curious eyes, are surely one of the easiest ways I can lose sight of time and spent hours just communicating with them with my very limited language skills and capturing some images that, despite their glow, never get close to the feelings of peace and purity these little encounters bring to my soul.

Smile of joy, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
After lunch, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Novice portrait, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Bow, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Seamless colors, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Tighttree walker, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
There's strength in numbers, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
But I would be blind if I pretended that everything was relax and happiness in Myawaddy: far from it. There is poverty, no doubt, and overcrowding, and probably lack of options for many of them, which is never as apparent as in Moei river, where small boats offer the promise of a better land just across the still, silent waters. Good luck to all, and my deepest affection for all the people of a country that has so many different things to offer that one wishes all diversity could be preserved and not washed away slowly for the sake of some other goals.

Two banks, two countries, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm